This is a common question: am I depressed or is this really what it’s like to be a teen? The answer is definitely not as quick and easy as some people make it out to be, especially when you’ve got a lot of stuff going on in your head that’s bringing you down. Mix that with all the stuff going on in your body (hormones, whatever you’re eating or drinking, substances you’ve come into contact with, or whatever else) and you’re looking at a really complex situation.
In this post, I want us to dive into what it means (mentally -- and kind of physically) to be a teenager AND what it means to have symptoms of depression.
So what does depression look like?
Let’s just skim through some of the common symptoms of depression real fast:
Low mood most of the day (sadness, irritability, etc.)
Lack of interest or pleasure in tons of activities (especially in ones you used to love)
Weight loss when not dieting OR weight gain
Extra hunger or less hunger (enough to be noticeable)
Slowness of thoughts (like a brain fog) and a reduction of physical movement
Lack of energy and feelings of fatigue
Self-doubt and an increase in feelings of guilt or shame
Difficulty thinking, focusing, or making decisions
Thinking about death or how life might “be easier” if you didn’t exist
What does being a teenager look like?
Just generally, that list above with all those depression symptoms is pretty heavy stuff. But if I were to compile a list of what being a teen looks like, most of those things would overlap. Your hormones are going crazy - most of the things above could be explained by hormones alone. Maybe some days you eat more than you thought was physically possible and you gain some weight. Maybe it’s hard to focus because someone cute catches your eye and your hormones spike. Maybe you’re pissed off at your guardian first thing in the morning and then you go to school and your teacher makes you mad too so you’re irritable all day. Or maybe your friend won’t talk to you so you’re sad and then you get assigned a huge project so you’re even more sad, then you get home and for some reason you’re grounded and now you’re really sad -- well there’s a low mood for most of the day.
And puberty seriously doesn’t help with feelings of self-doubt or thinking about how life might be easier if you could disappear, right? Not to mention, a lot of your old interests (Minecraft, Spongebob, Undertale, whatever) may not really fit your new lifestyle as a teenager, so now you’re also experiencing a lack of interest in your old hobbies. And there are also SO many decisions to make in middle and high school that it can be hard to pick one, especially when your friends or family try to influence you to make certain choices.
So how do you know if you’re depressed or if you’re just a teen?
That’s where it becomes really tricky. Honestly, I would recommend that you speak with a professional (a therapist or counselor, specifically) if you think you might be depressed. Because truthfully, you can be both a teen AND depressed. But sometimes it may just be developmentally appropriate symptoms of being a teen. It’s hard enough to be going through any (or all) of those symptoms above and it only makes it more difficult if you feel like you’re in this alone and have to figure out if you’re depressed or not all by yourself.
But I know that if I was googling stuff like this and got to the end of the article and someone was like “okay, just reach out for help so someone else can tell you what’s up”, I would be frustrated. So let’s dig in a little deeper. Over a screen, I can’t truthfully tell you if you’re depressed or not - for a diagnosis, you have to see a therapist. But I can help you ask yourself some questions that may help you decide if those symptoms up there are affecting you to the point where you should see someone and ask them if you’ve got depression.
The big question is this: Are those symptoms affecting your quality of life?
Your quality of life is your general health and well-being during your daily activities. So if you have a crappy quality of life, you’re not enjoying things in your day-to-day life and you’re not feeling very healthy (either mentally or physically.)
Here are all of the little questions that can help you answer that big one:
Is self-doubt, guilt, or shame eating you up to the point where you can’t make or keep friends? Does it stop you from trying out new things you might actually like?
Is being sad or irritable or numb a 24/7 thing for you? Is that your mood a majority of the time at least?
Do you feel like there’s a fog making it hard to think or focus outside of your low mood? Does this interrupt you getting chores, school work, or (previously fun) activities completed?
When you’re on your own, is it hard to pick something to do? Do you find that nothing brings you joy anymore and that it’s even hard to remember the last time you were happy?
Do you find yourself circling on thoughts about not wanting to be around or alive anymore? Have you considered harming yourself? Do those thoughts come up often?
If your answer to most (or all) of those was “yes”, please seek professional help. You may be depressed. You’re not alone in feeling this way, though - in fact, in a study in 2017, 3.2 million teenagers (ages 12 to 17) said that they experienced at least one major depressive episode (a period of time where they were seriously depressed.) And depression doesn’t just hit people of one gender - teens of any gender can feel depressed.
There are many therapists out there (myself included!) that would love to meet you and help you out. So if you think we might be able to connect and work together (and you’re in WA state), please reach out. I especially like to help teens and young adults that are experiencing a lot of feelings of worry, self-doubt, guilt, and shame.
If you think someone else might have a better style for you and your needs, you can check PsychologyToday and type in your zipcode to learn more about therapists around you that specialize in depression and working with people your age.